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Clause 7—(Government Control Over Authority As To Certain Matters)

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1954

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Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 13, after "them" insert:

"and as to the hours of the day in which such broadcasts are or are not to be given."

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment provides that the Postmaster-General may give directions to the Authority as to the actual hours of broadcasting, as opposed to the powers which he has already in regard to the maximum and minimum hours.

Yes, this is in addition. In Committee there was an Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) to delete the powers of the Postmaster-General over the hours of broadcasting, but we thought that that was a matter over which the Postmaster-General should have control. The new powers are similar to those which the Postmaster-General has over the B.B.C. It does not mean that the hours broadcast by the B.B.C. will be the same for the new Authority, but the Amendment gives to the Postmaster-General authority to decide what hours the new Authority shall broadcast. We felt that this was a reasonable provision.

I hope that hon. Members below the Gangway on the Government side will have taken careful note of what the Assistant Postmaster-General has said. Judging by their anxieties, they listened to his words. Clearly, this is a most desirable power that should be taken by the Postmaster-General. I think it would be the wish of hon. Members on both sides that it should be used discreetly, but that if for any social reason whatever it should be necessary to control the hours, the Postmaster-General, whoever he may be, will not be afraid to use the power. That was quite clearly the purpose as expressed in another place. I hope that the Assistant Postmaster- General will pass on the views of this House also that we hope the Postmaster-General will use these powers firmly when necessary.

I should like to ask one or two questions in connection with the Amendment. I am not clear that where the B.B.C. is concerned the Postmaster. General does, in fact, possess these powers regarding maximum and minimum hours and the hours of the day at which broadcasts will or will not be given. Second. I am not quite clear of the intention as to how these powers are to be used and for what reason the Amendment has been brought forward and has Government backing. I should like my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General to give a little more information about the Amendment, because at the moment it is far from satisfactory.

I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to point out that one of the purposes is to secure that there is not too much broadcasting for children between 6 and 7.30 p.m., which could happen if these powers were not in the background and were not used.

I support the point made by my right hon. Friend. I hope that the Home Secretary will assure us that these powers given to the Postmaster-General to control the times of broadcasting by the new Television Authority will most definitely include a control by the Postmaster-General over the hours of broadcasting to children. I do not think there is any more important aspect of this matter. We all know the influence that television has over the child audience, and if the Postmaster-General does not exercise these powers over the children's programmes of the new Authority, there will be a tremendous incentive for the advertisers to seek to put out advertisements along with children's broadcasts between the hours of 6 and 7.30 p.m. when at the moment the B.B.C. sends out no programmes.

Every parent knows the difficulty in detaching the child from the television screen, and it is for this reason that the B.B.C. does not send out a television programme during that time. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to reassure us and will promise us that proper control will be exercised in this important matter.

In view of what has just been said, I should be obliged if the Home Secretary would give us a firm assurance that he is not intending, nor is it in the minds of the Government, to use this power in the way suggested by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nothing could be worse. The new Authority has been given the use of a wavelength, of capital equipment, and the rest of it. If this power is used in that way to prevent it from going ahead, nothing could be worse. Who are to be the judges of what children shall look at between 6.30 and 7, the parents or the Postmaster-General? It was for this very reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) was anxious about it, and so I hope we shall have an assurance, first, that the new Authority will not be tied to the hours of the B.B.C. and, secondly, that the power will not be used in that way.

First I will deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend as to the position comparable with the B.B.C. This power is similar to one which the Postmaster-General has over the B.B.C. under Clause 15 (1) of the 1952 licence and agreements. With regard to the general position, I said when we were discussing this question that how many hours a day television should function was a social matter over which the Government ought to keep control. Here I am quoting myself, and I recognise the inferiority of the quotation.

There was considerable feeling on this point, and I felt that the power ought to be there, and that is why the power exists. I do not want to suggest, and nobody suggests, that there need be an exact coincidence between the powers of the Authority and those of the B.B.C. We expect them both to be responsible bodies. I feel, however, that this is a matter on which the Government must have permissive powers, and so we have taken powers in this case. There is no reason to assume from the taking of the powers that we wish undue interference. As I have indicated, it is simply a matter of protection which we believe ought to exist.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say something about the children's programmes?

That is one of the matters which can be considered. It is a matter which can be taken into account. I think that it is quite clear that that was one of the matters which animated the minds of everyone.

I think that from these benches we ought to say how much we appreciate the socially progressive speech of the Home Secretary, and how encouraged we have been at this late hour to find this really magnificent expression of the determination of the Government to protect the young, the feeble and the unprotected.

What will be quite clear is that the air will hate a vacuum, and that if the B.B.C. is not operating at any time, the advertisers will try to obtain that time. Clearly what the advertisers and the programme companies will get under this Bill is the minimum amount of competition with each other; and they will want to get also the minimum amount of competition with the B.B.C., because they fear that the B.B.C. will put on better programmes than their own. Under those circumstances it is very desirable, in the interests of the competition which the right hon. and learned Gentleman desires so much, that they should compete with the B.B.C. by being on the air at the same time. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will keep that in mind when discussing the matter with the Authority.

I can quite understand that in the circumstances it is desirable that, as happens in the B.B.C., there should be some control over the hours. But I hope—though I rather fear it, from the smiles on the faces of the tigers— that this power given to the Postmaster-General will be used to save the B.B.C. from competition. As long as it is used for the purposes suggested, that is for the well being generally, but it should not be used to protect the B.B.C., so that its programmes will not be interfered with, or that the Independent Authority shall not be allowed to work 24 hours a day because the B.B.C. prefers to work eight hours a day.

If, without disturbing the children, the Independent Authority likes to put on something for the miners who come off the last shift, it must not be stopped because the B.B.C. is unable to provide for the miners. I hope that this power will not be used to protect the B.B.C.

Question put, and agreed to.